Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence
Maniac Cop 2 comes out, itís a big hit on video and for Director Bill Lustig it was what he considered his best work. With commercial success and creative gratification, that usually opens the door for a sequel, and so through the doorway went officer Matt Cordell. Only, Maniac Cop 3 wasnít really the movie anyone had set out to make. Lustig and his writer Larry Cohen set out to do a film with a black lead (likely to contrast racial persecution with that received by the fallen Cordell) and the producers set out to make a movie that would clock in at 90-minutes. Neither got their wish, and the turmoil on set became a thing of Fangoria legend as Lustig and Producer Joel Soisson (later to direct the Pulse sequels and Children of the Corn: Genesis reviewed here) had a war of words in the publication. What remains are the charred remains of a murder with no victim, as Alan Smithee stands in for any directorial credit (part of the benefit of owning your own distribution company like Bill does is the ability to retroactively alter the credits for the film, since the slide clearly has a different font than the rest). Itís not a film either Lustig or Soisson want to remember, but should Cordell get off that easy? Letís weigh his crimes and cop a verdict.
After Dt. Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) cleared Cordellís (Robert Zídar) name at the end of the second film, it seemed as if the Maniac Cop could finally rest in peace. Not so. Heís resurrected by a shaman in an inner city church, and this time Cordellís mission is far less egocentric. Cordellís out to make sure no cop faces the corrupt injustice that befell his tenure. He walks the streets now late at night, spinning his signature night stick, his eyes on the force. Nearby, Katie Sullivan (Gretchen Becker, The Doors), on the day of her birthday, is called to a crime scene where a junkie, Frank Jessup (The Watchmenís Jackie Earle Haley in one of his first adult roles) and his girlfriend are in the midst of raiding a drug store. Shots are fired and Sullivan goes down, rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Seems like the unfortunate act of a cop going down in the line of fire, but a corrupt city council and police force spin the story for the worst in order to deflect heat for their own legal discretions.
With Sullivanís good name now shamed thanks to a negative spin on local TV edited from footage shot during the crime, itís Cordellís time once again to stick up for the good guy in a city run by crooks. Cordell takes the defibrillator to Dr. Peter Myerson (Doug Savant, Melrose Place) for not doing enough to bring Katie out of her coma, he turns the shot on the camera men who slandered her name, and he even helps Jessup out of his cuffs to stage a late night siege on the hospital. Itís all-out war, with McKinney and doe-eyed doctor Susan Fowler (Caitlin Dulany, Class of 1999 II) caught in the crossfire. The two escape, but learn that Officer Sullivan has been kidnapped from her hospital bed, falling probably literally and metaphorically into the hands of death.
Cordell proceeds through an underground alleyway from the hospital to the shamanís church, where he orders the shaman to resurrect the fallen cop. Cordell has found a soul mate, and heíd literally go down in flames if forced to give her up. Together McKinney and Fowler intend to put Cordell down for good, but when thereís no room in hellÖwell, you know the rest. The action culminates in a thrilling car chase, where Cordell, now in flames, pursues the couple by car so as to not extinguish the burning desire he has for Sullivan. In the end, we find that love is the most powerful bond of all.
Is it true that Maniac Cop 3 is a film barely cobbled together to fill out a feature film? Yes. Is it true that it canít live up to the energy and, well, maniacal energy of the second film? Yes, definitely. But is Maniac Cop 3 a fun film in its own right? You betcha. It lives in the shadows of a troubled history and the height of its predecessor, but Badge of Silence still has a lot going for it. Again, Stunt Coordinator Spiro Razatos puts on a show, upstaging his famously fiery climax of the second film by this time adding a car chase to the mix. Building an entire sequence out of a driver on fire punching through windows and grabbing passengers in other vehicles while driving certainly is something you donít see attempted in movies often (ever?) especially from an era where all these were done practically. While the stunts are entertaining, they also help to sell the rage and underscore the backstory of the titular character. Although Cohenís Maniac Cop 3 script was savaged by re-writes and changes from a pool of producers, still present are some of the clever insights into politics, media and human nature that always makes Cohenís stories such fun to watch. The banter between the two reporters early in the film as they try to chase leads captures a pretty telling time capsule of what society was like during the Rodney King-era. The story also effectively evokes and updates the Bride of Frankenstein story with an urban spin. Itís a lean movie, clocking in at 85-minutes with flashbacks and two lengthy credit sequences, but the sharp few scenes that Cohen did pen certainly leave their mark.
While Cohenís story still remains effective despite all the re-writes, it also sort of leaves you wanting more from his and Lustigís original vision. You can see a lot of topical critique about the portrayal of blacks in the media or the problems of US health care, but some of it seems like strands from a different cloth and not something that totally sews into a story about Dt. Sean McKinney. Indeed, the bookending black shaman recantation sequences certainly feel without context in the film as it is today. The big obstacle to all this was that Japanese investors were reluctant to bankroll a picture with a black lead in 1993 and thus the producers got their way. I hope that twenty years later, should this proposed continuation of the story with Nicolas Winding Refn proceed, that Cohen and Lustigís vision finally get its due.
In cases like this where the director walks from set the producers are usually the first to blame, but from the telling documentary included on the disc, it doesnít seem like Joel Soisson is the bad guy either. In truth, the added scenes he did shoot and write that were revealed, particularly the opening gun range exchange between Davi and Becker are still done with a professional style that comes close to Lustigís. Given the budget crunch and the lack of footage, it seems as if Soissonís really the only reason the film was ever completed enough to be released. Bill Lustig admits his disinterest during the production of the film in light of all the creative changes so it was a bad situation either way. Remove yourself from the murky production hell this film endured, and the final product is a brisk but far from boring. With the Alan Smithee credit, Maniac Cop 3 is a blameless movie, but someone should take credit for it, because itís still a police procedural on steroids, with plenty of memorable mayhem from Robert Davi doing a shooting back flip on a gurney to that aforementioned charred climax. This Badge of Silence deserves a voice.
This one is a bit tricky, since the film was sold to HBO for original broadcast in 1.33:1, was released later on DVD in 1.78:1 from First Look, and now comes to Blu-ray here in 2.35:1. Seeing as William Lustig directed the film, Iíd assume he knows best, and looking at various screen comparisons it does seem as if the 2.35 compositions represent the best arrangement of mise-en-scene. The crop from 1.78 to 2.35 is by matting the image so youíre losing picture on the top and bottom rather than gaining on the sides. Traditionally, pictures shot in 2.35 are done so with anamorphic lenses, but in some cases, like with James Cameron and his Super 35mm process, itís done by cropping a 1.33:1 ratio exposure, so itís possible this 2.35:1 was always the intent. I know Lustig was always had a little contempt that the second Maniac Cop went DTV, so perhaps framing this now in the most unfriendly of television ratios is his way at payback.
Framing questions aside, the transfer here looks excellent, although not quite as dynamic as Maniac Cop 2. The picture is cleaner with less noise than the second, but itís also less vibrant, looking a little flat and desaturated at times. Itís also a wee bit on the dark side, with some of the night sequences, like those on the hospital rooftop, coming off a stop or two too dark. Edges are sharp but natural, so good that every pock mark on Robert Daviís face comes through in glorious high definition detail. Thatís what Blu-ray was made for. The transfer exhibits a light but natural film grain that, coupled along with the new aspect ratio give the film a much more theatrical bravados than ever before.
Maniac Cop 3 gets a nice audio remaster here, although it doesnít quite compare to the work done on Maniac Cop 2, both on paper and in execution. This is a DTS-HD 5.1 mix instead of the 7.1 found on Part 2, and even discounting the missing two channels, this is a less dynamic track. Channel separation is much less pronounced this time around, with the front and rear satellite speakers essentially matrixing the same data. There are a number of scenes that could have benefitted from some more separation, like the opening crime scene investigation where random police scanner chatter is just copied over all four speakers. It would have been nicer to hear it in the background, while the fronts dealt more with footsteps and the foley happening visibly on screen. There is separation with the center channel from the rest, but not enough was done to spread out the music and effects over the other four speakers. Likewise, directionality takes a step back in this release, too, with very few instances of directional movement from left to right and nothing from front to back. There are several scenes where ambulances go whizzing by from the left part of the screen to the right, yet the audio does not follow. Itís little touches like this that could have elevated this new mix. Of course, this is all gravy, since the original mix was only 2.0 (and is included here as well). For a remaster this is still better than most, with a very clear sound, no audible hiss or noise, and a fairly active LFE channel to punctuate the action sequences.
Compared to the second film, the extras here are leaner, but equally as interesting. Red Shirt Pictures provides a documentary to compliment the piece for the second film, although this one has a considerably different slant. Itís mainly a contrast of opinions between the director,
The next extra is something I wish they had more of, especially on troubled productions like this: the original story synopsis. The outline that Larry Cohen wrote to sell the picture to investors is included in its five page entirety, and itís certainly a different film than the one we got. In this outline, Cordell actually impregnates(!) a comatose(!!) Officer Mallory from the first two films (something tells me Laurene Landon wouldnít be back for that part) and the ending has more of an Itís Alive spin than it does Bride of Frankenstein. The treatment is rough and likely would have needed quite a few changes to be made properly, but this synopsis is a revealing look at just how much a movie can change from inception to completion.
Furthering the changes a film undergoes during its making, there are a number of deleted and extended scenes included as well. There are 7 scenes running just over 10 minutes in all, and most are expository in nature. Ones without dialogue, like the extended wedding nightmare, run just way too long and show exactly why they needed to be cut. Nothing very interesting to watch here.
Rounding off the disc is a still gallery featuring a number of promotional shots from the film. I liked the original poster art with the ďEverything you say will be held against youĒ tagline. Thereís also the theatrical (ha!) trailer with the requisite 90ís gravelly voice narration. It was marketed pretty well, all things considered.
Maniac Cop 3 certainly didnít have the easiest road to TV and video store shelves, but twenty years later itís time for us fans to give the film full pardon. Itís stylishly shot, acted with sincerity and still saddled with some show stopping stunts. It may be a bastard of Cohenís original vision and only 50% of what Lustig shot for the picture, but remarkably the wit, style and energy that Cohen and Lustig brought to the first two films still shows here, albeit to a smaller degree. Despite Lustig disowning the picture, he still befits the Bluray with sterling AV (although the aspect ratio will no doubt be a minor point of contention) and an illuminating slate of supplements that hold nothing back. The troubled history behind the scenes is perhaps more interesting than the film itself, and from the included documentary and original story synopsis, we get a front seat to the carnage. This may have been the Copís last day on the force, but thanks to Blue Underground Matt Cordellís retirement, both in front and behind the camera, will forever be preserved here.
Great review! Makes me look forward to this even more. And you seem more impressed with the audio than the reviewer at Blu-ray.com.
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